“You Can't Teach THAT Online”: Blended Learning Strategies for Health Professional Education Programs

Concurrent Session 2

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

This presentation will explore common misconceptions of online learning relevant to health professions education.  The presenters will feature examples of engaging, interactive blended and online learning designs that help students apply theory to practice to prepare them for working in the healthcare environment.  


Allison Sohanlal obtained her Masters of Child Life and Family Centered Care degree from Wheelock College in Boston, Massachusetts and a Masters of Health Science Education at McMaster University. Allison's thesis work in her Masters of Health Science Education degree focused on the educational impact of the Evaluation Tool for Child Life Interns. Allison is an Assistant Professor for the Department of Pediatrics and is the Clinical Education Coordinator within the Masters of Science in Child Life and Pediatric Psychosocial Care Program. Allison is also a faculty lead for the Program for Interprofessional Practice, Education and Research (PIPER) at McMaster University. Since 2003, Allison's professional career as a certified child life specialist (CCLS) has focused on advocating for the emotional and psychosocial needs of children and adolescents facing stressful or traumatic life events. As an advocate for family centered care, Allison's career has involved working in early intervention services in the community, within the hospital sector, volunteering overseas and the academic and clinical preparation of child life specialists.
Sarah Patterson is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Pediatrics, and the Curriculum Coordinator for the Master's of Science in Child Life and Pediatric Psychosocial Care Program in the Faculty of Health Sciences. This program is the first of its kind to provide Child Life and Pediatric Psychosocial care education at a graduate level in Canada. Sarah completed her graduate degree at Illinois State University in Child Life and Child Psychology. Sarah has worked as a certified child life specialist (CCLS) for over 25 years advocating for the emotional and psychosocial needs of children and adolescents facing stressful or traumatic life events. Sarah's career has involved working in a large academic pediatric hospital as well as, working as a subject matter expert consultant providing pediatric psychosocial training and education initiatives in Austria, Cuba, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, South Africa and Qatar.

Extended Abstract

Health care professionals in the 21st century should be competent in their role but more importantly they should be capable.  The ability to be capable in your role “ensures that the delivery of health care keeps up with its ever changing context” (Fraser & Greenhalgh, 2001, p. 799).  Particularly in the context of providing health care services, the ability to problem solve, collaborate and communicate effectively is key (Konnerup & Ryberg, 2018).  Health professional education programs must acknowledge the benefit of utilizing blended learning strategies where there is an increased focus on individual and collective reflection that allows for learning to occur over time, resulting in capable practitioners who are part of a transformative learning experience (Chang, 2019; Fraser & Greenhalgh, 2001).  Educational design that has traditionally been part of health professions in-person education such as problem based learning (PBL) and simulation are now being modified and brought online. Hew & Lo (2018) conducted a meta-analysis of flipped classrooms for health professions education and found this transition to online and blended formats to have a high level of satisfaction from students, an increased level of engagement and enhanced interest in the subject matter (p. 2).  Particularly at the graduate education level, the program strives to meet the demands of minimum expectations for graduate studies and varied experiences through in person and online courses that produce a health professional who can meet the demands of the future. This gamified session will allow for administrators, faculty, staff and students from professional education programs to come together and share strategies that contribute to successful blended learning designs.

The presenters have a renowned long standing academic and clinical preparation program within the area of health sciences since 1989. As a program preparing health professionals for clinical practice, the program has been grounded in implementing and evaluating program design that most effectively meets the needs of our learners, our profession and most importantly the vulnerable children and families our graduates will serve. This journey led to what some have called non-traditional models of educating clinical learners, when in 1999 we became the first academic program within our profession to offer online courses. At the same time, the program offered on campus courses utilizing a problem-based approach. These also included an online learning platform to enable a flipped classroom, as well as real-time virtual sessions, asynchronous online discussion forums, and small group work. These methods served to synthesize and communicate information, discuss application to clinical practice, and engage in scholarly debate with students and faculty.  The attraction for online education was palpable as our numbers expanded beyond geographical boundaries to learners from ten countries.

In 2016 the initial program closed, and a new Master’s program began. Following an extensive review of pedagogical approaches, stakeholder surveys and focus groups, and mapping our profession’s competencies to develop proposed graduate courses and curriculum, the initial program proposal brief was created. Throughout this process, it became clear that online opportunities were of interest due to the flexible and accessible learning schedule, and the opportunities this could provide for harnessing global perspectives in the delivery of pediatric health services, as it could extend the reach of this theoretical and applied knowledge. This was of particular interest for those clinicians already in practice wishing to upgrade their qualifications.

The program desired to move away from teaching what to “say” or “do” and rather to “show how” through scaffolding techniques such as online role model demonstrations by learners, simulation learning using standardized patients, and utilizing a clinical seminar that complements internship competencies and graduate education level expectations. Within simulation and online demonstrations there is a focus on reflection and debriefing after the case based scenario. This allows for optimal knowledge translation in the field and the opportunity to reflect, communicate and advocate within the student cohort and profession. Chang (2019) found that “reflection can help with personal reflection, scaffolding ideas and concepts, reflecting on past actions, in-action and future actions” ( p. 96).  By allowing an opportunity to use a “flipped classroom” online, we provide increased opportunities for problem based learning which is more active and leads to increased competency. This also matches current evidence based practice which finds that "capability is enhanced through feedback on performance, the challenge of unfamiliar contexts, and the use of non-linear methods such as storytelling and small group, problem based learning" (Konnerup & Ryberg, 2018, p. 799).

The presenters lived experience in online/blended learning, the lessons learned along the way and stakeholder response led the presenters to build and grow the first professional Master’s program of this kind. Despite the encouragement from members of our professional community, and rigor of the academic review process, there can still be those within our larger profession who wonder, “can you really teach that online?”. We respond with a strong “yes” for multiple reasons. The program has met some resistance from those who do not understand the complexity and interactive nature that can be utilized in online learning.  Many myths and misconceptions are formed from thoughts of what individuals think of “e-learning”. This presentation will explore these misconceptions and demonstrate the effective techniques this program has used to transform a traditional program to a blended format while maintaining the integrity and competency based structure of health professions education.

As this is a gamified session, we will be using a mini Jeopardy game format to increase the interactivity for participants.  Our approach to this session is to intersperse our content with gamification and surveys using common myths and misconceptions as headings in our Jeopardy game that relate to the phrase “you can’t teach THAT online”.  The presenters and audience members will share a variety of strategies to enhance blended learning opportunities specific to health professions education. We will also be encouraging our attendees to ask questions throughout the presentation to ensure the content we are delivering is clear and to allow for everyone to share strategies they have found to be particularly helpful in bringing health professional education online.  

Our goals for this educational session are:

  • To share our experience of transforming an in person professional program to a blended/online program

  • To explore ways that blended learning strategies can enhance problem solving, collaboration and communication skills for the next generation of health care providers

  • Provided an interactive presentation to offer knowledge translation of material effectively


Chang, B. (2019). Reflection in learning. Online Learning, 23(1), 95-110.

Fraser, SW & Greenhalgh, T. (2001).  Coping with complexity: educating for capability.  BMJ, Vol 323: 799-803.

Hew, KF. & Lo CK. (2018).  Flipped classroom improves student learning in health professions education:  a meta-analysis. BMC Medical Education, 18(38).

Konnerup, U. & Ryberg, T. (2018).  Flipped PBL curriculum - creating the next generation of PBL learning principles. PBL 2018 International Conference accessed at:  https://www.researchgate.net/publication/324834635_Konnerup_U_Ryberg_T_2018_Flipped_PBL_Curriculum_-_Creating_the_Next_Generation_of_PBL_Learning_Principles